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Tony Blair At Leveson: Will The Inquiry Find A Chink In The Former PM's Armour?

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BLAIR AND MURDOCH
Tony Blair will appear before the Leveson inquiry on Monday | Eyevine

He’s the master of charm - and we’ve seen him use it at two inquiries.

He stayed cool when asked if he had any regrets about Iraq at the Chilcott Inquiry and over that 'sexed-up' dossier at the Hutton Inquiry, so, should we be expecting any revelations to come out of Tony Blair’s evidence to Leveson?

The former prime minister heads the line-up for the inquiry into media and press ethics next week, alongside Jeremy Hunt, Vince Cable, Theresa May and Ken Clarke.

Blair, who has concentrated on his charity work since leaving government, led the Labour party from 1994 until 2006. Under his leadership, The Sun switched its allegiance from the Conservative party to the Labour party ahead of the 1997 elections. During his time as prime minister, two journalists from the News of the World were arrested for phone hacking.

The former PM has questions to answer about how close he was to Rupert Murdoch, whom he met 38 times between 1994 and the end of his term as leader, and spoke to on numerous occasions , according to Martin Moore of the Media Standards Trust.

But, as Moore told The Huffington Post UK: "I think he'll be extremely adept, particularly given his experience in the past.”

He says the relationship between Blair and Murdoch was more “nuanced” than a simple deal, where the Labour government would enact policies that would benefit News Corp in return for the support of their newspapers.

"It would be terribly interesting to understand a bit more about the relationship, he went out to Australia in 1995 and he was in Pebble beach, California in July 2006, where the News Corp conference was, about a fortnight before Glenn Muclaire and Clive Goodman were arrested,” Moore says.

“Whatever deal or no deal there was, if there was a perception that people in the government were very close to News International that's going to have a trickle down effect.”

Murdoch himself, giving evidence to the inquiry, said he had never asked any politicians for personal favours.

Former ministers in Blair’s government have denied there was any pact with Rupert Murdoch, with Peter Mandelson telling the inquiry “there was no deal, express or implied, between any proprietor and any leading politician for the Labour Party that suggested that in return for that proprietor's support for the Labour Party they could expect some favourable commercial treatment in return.”

His comments were echoed by Tessa Jowell, who told Leveson she sought an assurance from Tony Blair that he had made no deal with Rupert Murdoch on media regulation (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/1972519.stm) when she was appointed culture secretary in 2001.

John Rentoul, Blair’s biographer and chief political commentator at The Independent on Sunday, has argued the former prime minister was in fact the only politician to stand up to Murdoch.

He told The Huffington Post UK Blair had been “vilified” for his relationship with him, and there were “conspiracy theories” about Murdoch’s support for the Iraq war.

“I suspect Tony Blair will repeat his entirely reasonable case that he sought to gain a fair hearing for the Labour Party with the Murdoch media as with all the others. And he will repeat his "feral beast" argument that politicians are held accountable while journalists who spin or get things wrong are not,” he said.

Blair's former chief spin doctor Alastair Campbell told Leveson last week: "I don't think on policy anything was ever traded with Rupert Murdoch or with any other media owner."

However Labour MP Tom Watson also told the inquiry that ministers in Blair's government, were scared of how they were portrayed in the Murdoch tabloids.

"There was a mystique about the News International stable, that they had unique access to Downing Street," he said.

Watson also told Leveson that Gordon Brown, Blair's successor, had phone home to say Murdoch had request to Blair he call off his efforts to expose the phone hacking scandal.

"It's not the sort of thing a backbench MP would forget too easily," he said.

Steve Barnett, a professor of media at Westminster University says the inquiry should focus if Blair, who is godfather to one of Murdoch’s children, felt “personally seduced” by the media mogul during his time years in power.

"The other thing that i think will be very interesting is whether he just felt personally that he was seduced by Rupert Murdoch. Is it appropriate to become the godfather to one of his children, and what was it that made him travel halfway around the world in 1995 to go to one of his meetings?”

Professor Barnett is not the only person to suggest Blair and Murdoch may have been too close - Peter Mandelson conceded the same thing in his evidence, saying that Balir and Brown were "closer than was wise" to the media mogul and News Corp chief.

For Moore, Blair will be difficult to “trip up” "I've been told by one person that no one ever left a meeting with Tony Blair feeling worse than when they went in,” he says.

"That's not to say we won't learn anything new, I don't think anyone should go into it thinking they'll find a smoking gun.”

Also on The Huffington Post

Phone Hacking/Bribery Scandal Timeline
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